By Roger Moore
The thin comic appeal of Kevin James is laid on a bit thicker in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” his first solo star vehicle for the big screen. As a chunky loner-loser who can never pass the New Jersey State Police exam and never get the girl, James practically channels John Candy at his most sympathetic in this not-a-real-cop comedy.
“Detect, deter, observe, report,” that’s the mall cop’s motto. But Blart, a lonely single dad smitten with the blond who sells hair extensions from a kiosk (Jayma Mays), always goes the extra mile, even when elderly customers are running him over with their scooters and obese women are giving him a beat-down or generally abusing him due to his lack of real authority.
Blart instructs a rookie in the ways of the job, “giving the illusion that you have a gun” and the like. He is a master of his domain — the West Orange Pavilion Mall — and of the steed that carries him through it, a Segway. James’ balletic mastery of the vehicle for this role (he co-wrote the script) is easily the best thing about “Mall Cop.” The Segway, a pretty good sight gag by itself, becomes an extension of the portly Blart’s persona — underestimated, able to take a licking and keep on ticketing.
James, a graceful fat funnyman in the Belushi/Jackie Gleason mold, never really transcends the thin story that this lightweight and family-friendly comedy gives us. The movie’s rank sentiment is Candy-cloned. He even copies the late corpulent Canadian’s self-defensive laugh. Let’s feel sorry for the lovelorn hypoglycemic guy with the gut. Watch him slather peanut butter over mom’s (Shirley Henderson) apple pie after his latest State Police washout.
“Peanut butter. It just fills the cracks of the heart.”
The movie is about Paul Blart’s greatest challenge — a mall robbery with hostages. Blart must fend off trigger-happy Jersey SWAT cops led by the guy who bullied him in high school (Bobby Cannavale) and pick off a reindeer-named pack of skateboard-riding parkour practicing robbers, one by one, rescue the girl and save the day.
But the big man still finds big laughs in his character’s mall-savviness, his self-deprecating use of his girth (he’s the butt of his own butt jokes) and his many Segway moments.